In case you don’t know…our family is kinda famous. Not in the wealthy-recognizable-luxurious kind of way. But, in the you-probably-heard-our-story-and-didn’t-know-it-was-us kind of way.
You see, a few years ago we had the honor of gracing the “Weird News” section of newspapers and were the subject of radio talk shows and newspaper columns around the world. Yes…the WORLD!
Strange and as embarrassing as this story is to share, there are lessons to be learned so hang with me until the end. Keep in mind that everyone involved probably has a different recollection of how things went down, but this is how my memory recalls the event (minus a few insignificant details).
NOTE: Reader discretion is advised for those with weak stomachs.
It was a dark and stormy night….no, not really (But, isn’t that how all good stories start?). It was actually a pleasant Spring day in Arkansas and my husband and his twin brother headed out to Greers Ferry Lake to enjoy some spearfishing. The wives and children anxiously awaited their return hoping they would bring home a bounty worthy of a good ol’ southern fish fry. I don’t recall the guys bringing home many “good” fish, but they did bring home a long-nosed gar.
For those who are unfamiliar with long-nosed gar, they are someone reminiscent of a small dinosaur. They are vicious looking creatures, have virtually no enemies and they are near impossible to eat. Yet, my hubby and brother-in-law decided that they wanted to see what gar tasted like. So, they brought one home. In the process of cleaning the fish they realized that it was an expectant momma gar. My hubby recalled a conversation he’d had with a man in our church in which he was told that fish eggs are fantastic to eat! Before I go any farther, remember that we live in Arkansas. People here eat strange things…squirrel, raccoon, fish eggs….so the idea wasn’t all that odd.
Much to the dismay of myself and my sister-in-law, the guys brought the fish eggs to my kitchen where they proceeded to batter and fry them in my Fry Daddy like any good southern cook would do. When the kids were offered a taste they shied away. Those that didn’t were forbidden to eat them by their mothers…except for my then 10-year old who was more than willing to do anything his dad was doing. The mighty fishermen and my son ate and ate. I wasn’t sure just how many gar eggs they had ingested until my son woke me up in the wee hours of morning. “Mom? I just threw up.”
Like any good mother would do, I jumped out of bed and went to my son’s room to clean up the aftermath. That is, until I saw the mess. I won’t go into detail because it makes me gag to even think of typing it, but you can probably imagine what I found.
My son was sick several more times through the night. The next morning I awoke to find my husband asleep on the couch. He had been sick during the night as well. I walked next door where my brother-in-law and his family was staying. He too had been throwing up all night. This wasn’t just a coincidence.
I went home and opened my laptop and did a quick Google search. “Gar eggs are extremely toxic to humans when consumed.” Two things went through my mind at this point: The obvious “Why didn’t we Google this BEFORE the guys ate the gar eggs?” and “Phew! At least we’re not the only ones who have tried such a thing!” I found some comfort in the fact that somewhere somehow someone else thought to try to eat gar eggs, because how else would it be known that they are toxic to humans?
I immediately called our doctor’s office. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall in their office that day. It’s probably fair to say they had never received a call from a frantic mother saying “What do I do? My kid ate toxic fish eggs!”
They kindly did some research and urged me to call Poison Control and consider going to the ER. I placed a call to Poison Control. By the time I got done explaining what a gar was I knew they weren’t going to be any help. However, they did suggest that I call the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission since they would probably be more educated about the fish.
This is where things went terribly wrong. Listen to me closely, friends. When someone asks permission to share your story and promises that it will only go out to a couple dozen newsletter recipients and that your story could save someone’s life….RUN! Hang up the phone. Block their number. Whatever it takes.
During the time that I was at the hospital with my son, I received calls from Louisiana State University and other southern colleges who wanted to use our story for scientific research. I granted them permission to speak to the doctors working on my son and granted them access my son’s medical records that included lab results from the bazillion vials of blood they took out of his little body that day. In the meantime, the doctors were certain that the toxins in gar eggs were cyanide-based. How did they reach this conclusion? It had something to do with a story about a dog that died back in the 1800’s after eating gar eggs. It took a phone call to the hospital from a knowledgeable professor from LSU to convince the doctors that the toxin was protein-based and would simply have to run its course through. Any anti-toxin they gave my son would do more harm than just letting his body heal itself.
It was a matter of hours before the AP got ahold of our story and it spread like wildfire. Apparently the “little newsletter” that Arkansas Game & Fish sent out had a larger recipient list than we were told.
The next day, we started receiving calls and messages from all over the country saying that they had seen our story on their evening newscasts. I tried to do some damage control, but it was a complete waste of my time. By the next morning, blogs, radio talk shows, newspapers and more were sharing our story.
What made the story so appealing is the fact that we live in Arkansas. If somebody from Oregon had eating toxic fish eggs it probably wouldn’t have been a big deal. But, the Arkansas Hillbilly connection was just too perfect. Another reason this story made headlines is because of my husband’s name. Darwin. He endured more “survival of the fittest” jokes after the gar egg incident than he’s heard his entire life.
The hoopla died down after a couple of days and the guys fully recovered. But, we learned some valuable lessons during that time.
- Never. Trust. The. Media.
Ironically, I am now a member of the media. I write stories about real people every day. I often say that I’m a horrible entertainment writer. I have trouble separating real-life from news. Every time I write I see the face of the person I’m writing about. I think about how they would feel if they read the story that I penned. The pain of being misquoted and mocked is rough, y’all.
- Google Saves Lives.
For real, y’all. When in doubt, Google!
Life is pretty boring without some great stories to share. The embarrassment about the gar egg incident has worn off, yet 7-years later the story still comes up almost weekly. How many people from rural Arkansas can say that they were a topic of discussion on a New Zealand radio show or appeared in a British newspaper?
The gar egg incident left us wiser and more careful…and with a fantastic story to tell for generations to come. We’ve taken screen shots, printed, and even framed some of the stories that went around about our family. The more time that passes, the funnier they get. As a matter of fact, my son and husband have grown prouder of the story over the years, somewhat owning it as a badge of honor. Can’t say that I blame them. They handled the situation with grace, unlike me.
If you are still aching for some good reading after this lengthy post, check out the links below for a couple of the best stories about our 15-minutes of fame.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I threw away the Fry Daddy. You know…just in case there was a stray egg in there somewhere. Maybe I’ll get a new one for Christmas…
Fish Eggs Do Not Caviar Make (Outdoor Life)